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05 March 2009 8:44am

The Federal Government has urged employers to consider 20 “simple and inexpensive” family friendly initiatives, in launching its new flexibility funding program.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), notes that family-friendly work arrangements do not need to be “prescriptive and difficult” in order to succeed.

It outlines, on its website, 20 simple family-friendly ideas that employers can introduce at “little or no cost”.

These include:
1/ scheduling meetings within normal working hours;
2/ negotiating start and finish times and allowing staff a say in rostering arrangements;
3/ allowing staff to make up hours if they need to attend an appointment;
4/ discouraging weekend work and staying back late, except in exceptional circumstances;
5/ broadening the definition of ‘family’ (to include more distant relatives) for the purposes of bereavement leave;
6/ holding a ‘bring your child to work’ day or family picnic day;
7/ allowing leave without pay for cultural purposes;
8/ introducing a policy for breastfeeding employees; and
9/ introducing a keep-in-touch plan for staff on maternity leave.
Employers, DEEWR says, will benefit from such strategies through improved efficiency, increased staff retention and attraction, better OHS outcomes and, possibly, national recognition as employers of choice.

Employees can expect an increase in job satisfaction, improved health and wellbeing and a more equitable work/life balance.

$15K grants for small employers
Small business employers can now apply for grants of between $5,000 and $15,000 for implementing family-friendly policies under the Government’s new funding scheme.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard this week launched the Fresh Ideas for Work and Family grants program, aimed at funding and encouraging businesses with fewer than 15 workers to provide flexibility and offer employees a better work/life balance.

The initiative fulfils a 2007 Labor election promise, and eligible employers are invited to apply for the first round of grants – ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 – by 24 April 2009.

Successful applications, Gillard says, will be those that propose strategies that “benefit both the employer and employees, demonstrate long-term sustainable outcomes for the business and have the potential for wider application to other businesses”.

Initiatives should allow workers to strike a balance between their work, family, cultural activities and social life, and could include:
1/ constructing rosters based on alternative “core” hours to cater, for instance, for parents with school-aged children;
2/ providing facilities such as “family rooms” for employees with young children;
3/ establishing part-time work or job-sharing opportunities; and
4/ establishing a workplace mentoring system.

Flexibility advocate applauds new grants
The Fresh Ideas for Work and Family grants program is “a welcome injection of funds” for the development of a widespread culture of workplace flexibility, according to Liana Gorman of flexible recruitment consultants, Part Time Online.

Employers, Gorman says, can use the grants to develop policies around unpaid leave, part-time or job-share options (as opposed to lay-offs) and other flexibility strategies.

But it’s not just about the money, she notes.

Small business operators will be provided with streams of information and the implementation of their policies will be closely monitored and reviewed. (An employer will not receive the grant in its entirety until policies are firmly entrenched.)

The Government initiative has come at a time when many companies are “putting the brakes” on a variety of so-called non-core strategies, Gorman says, and the scheme should discourage employers from rashly shelving such initiatives in response to the economic crisis.

An employee’s need for flexibility hasn’t changed, she warns, and employers risk permanently damaging their brand if they forget to treat their workers with empathy and understanding.

Employers need to look beyond the next 12 months, she says.

Gorman notes that many larger organisations could also use some help in developing a flexible workplace – with the culture of flexibility taking a while to “permeate” the Australian working culture – but that the current scheme is “a good start”.


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